- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS — At a place that can be utterly cruel when it comes to sentimental favorites, Helio Castroneves provided a fitting ending to his comeback with an emotional victory in the Indianapolis 500.

More than five weeks after being acquitted of tax evasion charges, Castroneves dominated the final 58 laps and drove away from Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick to capture the checkered flag in front of a enthusiastic crowd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

After taking the checkered flag, Castroneves, his sister, Katiucia, and the rest of the Team Penske crew climbed the safety fence near the start-finish line. The victory celebration has earned Castroneves the nickname “Spiderman” - but this one had a lot more meaning than the other 14 in his career in the IndyCar Series.

“I think my tears speak for everything,” an emotional Castroneves said. “What a great team. We were having all sorts of problems at the beginning, but basically it’s a long race, and we took it easy. Once I was in the front, I never looked back.”

Castroneves became the ninth driver with at least three victories here. The win also marked the 15th for car owner Roger Penske. With one more, Castroneves would join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners.

It was far from a perfect race for Castroneves. He struggled with radio and gear box problems at the beginning of the race and was running as low as sixth before things finally rebounded. On lap 142, Castroneves passed Scott Dixon entering Turn 1 and led the remainder of the way.

After a crash involving Rafael Matos and Vitor Meira brought out the race’s eighth caution on lap 174, the field was bunched up one final time. But on the restart on lap 183, Castroneves got a good jump and kept extending his lead before winning by a rather comfortable 1.98 seconds.

“I was about ready to ask him what was going on,” Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said. “All of a sudden we were fifth, and he’s as calm as can be. Just like Indy always is, it’s a series of races inside of races, and we worked our way back.”

Said Castroneves: “I was trying to take it easy. I was waiting for the right time, and the right time came. When they put me in the lead - boom, the car was just incredible.”

All month long, Castroneves and Team Penske were the ones to beat. Castroneves won the pole with a dominating run. On Friday, he had the fastest car on Carb Day, his team won the Pit Stop competition and he found out that U.S. attorneys were not going to attempt to retry his case.

“Outside he has that fun personality that you see, but inside he has that tough-as-nails personality because that’s what it takes to survive what happened to him over the past six months,” Roger Penske said.

Wheldon, who won the race four years ago, gave Panther Racing its second straight second-place finish here. Patrick’s third marks her highest finish in five 500s, eclipsing the fourth she had in 2005, her rookie year.

“I had a really strong car for the last few stints and would have loved to see the last 35 laps raced green,” Patrick said. “I know we would have had no issues making it to the end without stopping. It was a great race for the fans, and I’m happy for Helio. He was super fast all day.”

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